Empress of the World

Cover of Empress of the World by Sara Ryan

Empress of the World is about friendship, love, and the sometimes blurry lines between the two. Nicola Lancaster comes to the Siegel Summer Institute for Gifted Youth to decide whether or not she wants to be an archaeologist. She doesn’t expect to make the best friends she’s ever had, and she especially doesn’t expect to fall in love with another girl.

Empress is an Oregon Book Award winner, an ALA Best Book for Young Adults and a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award. A companion book, The Rules for Hearts, was published in 2007.

The expanded edition includes an introduction by David Levithan and three short comics featuring characters from the books: “Me and Edith Head” with art by Steve Lieber, “Click” with art by Dylan Meconis, and “Comparative Anatomy” with art by Natalie Nourigat.

  • Edited by Sharyn November
  • Young Adult Fiction
  • 224 pages
  • Hardcover, 2001, Viking Books, ISBN: 0670896888
  • Paperback, 2003, Speak, ISBN: 0142500593
  • Reissue, 2012, Speak, ISBN: 0142500593


I am sitting cross-legged on an uncomfortable seat, waiting for a speech to start. It has been approximately forty-five minutes since Mom and Dad left me here. I am going to be here for the whole summer, and I do not know a single person. I open the big new journal Mom gave me last week. So far all it has is a title page which says “Field Notes” in block letters. I turn to the first blank page and write:

hypothesis: taking an actual class in archaeology will serve to confirm nicola lancaster in her lifelong dream of becoming an archaeologist.

I scratch out “lifelong dream,” because it doesn’t sound scientific enough, and write “proposed vocation,” but that sounds pompous, so I write “lifelong dream” again, and then above it, in larger letters, “ignore: this is dumb.” Then I write: “speech notes” just in case I actually take any.


“Both controversial and long-awaited, this helps to fill a need that is painfully obvious in YA literature and introduces a wonderful new voice.” –Kirkus Reviews, starred review

“realistic razor-keen observations and fine-edged humor. An excellent, upbeat (though not un-fraught) first-relationship novel for gay and lesbian teenagers and their straight friends.” New England Children’s Bookselling Advisory Council

“characters are voiced with near-perfect pitch. The action is equally on target; Ryan handles Nic’s confusion about her sexuality and her longing for Battle adroitly.” –The Oregonian

“Humorous and bittersweet –?a must-read.” –Teen People

“Ryan surpasses many of the trappings of stereotypical gay teen representations [and] is to be applauded for taking this story beyond an identity struggle.” –Publishers Weekly

  • Clockwork Game Update: 8/9/12 – JanerBlog v2.0
    August 9, 2012 at 12:42 am

    […] Signal boost of the week goes to Sara Ryan, whose book Empress of the World is getting a lovely new release, and now includes a new introduction by David Levithan, and three […]

  • tamara payne
    February 24, 2013 at 5:44 am

    Thank you to Sara Ryan for your book has helped me figure out my sexuality and also helped me through rough times

  • On Bisexual Characters and YA Literature | Malinda Lo
    April 26, 2013 at 5:24 pm

    […] terms of YA, representations of bisexual characters remain few and far between. (I do recommend Sara Ryan’s Empress of the World, Laura Goode’s Sister Mischief, and Nina LaCour’s The Disenchantments for a variety […]

  • YA Novels About Lesbians and Bisexual Girls - Malinda Lo
    October 23, 2013 at 9:10 am

    […] Empress of the World by Sara Ryan (Speak) […]

  • Age & Time part 2: author edition - Rachel Gold
    July 27, 2014 at 1:16 pm

    […] only one author in there under 35 and if you’re wondering, it’s Sara Ryan’s Empress of the World and I’m totally willing to lose to her in the young author […]

  • Amanda Vazquez
    September 1, 2014 at 8:53 am

    This is probably one of my favorite books! I recommend it to any teens

  • Favorite Young Adult Fiction About Lesbian, Bisexual, and Queer Girls - Malinda Lo
    June 7, 2016 at 9:43 am

    […] Empress of the World by Sara Ryan (Speak) […]